Esteban Granero

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Copa QF: Messi misses PK, Barca’s 29-game unbeaten run ends

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MADRID (AP) — Lionel Messi missed a penalty and Barcelona conceded late as its 29-match unbeaten streak ended in a 1-0 loss to city rival Espanyol in the first leg of their Copa del Rey quarterfinal on Wednesday.

Messi failed from the spot in the 62nd minute, his shot brilliantly saved by goalkeeper Diego Lopez.

Youngster Oscar Melendo netted the winner for the hosts in the 88th with his first goal as a professional.

“I have no words, I was looking forward to this first goal,” said the 20-year-old Melendo, who had come on as a substitute in the second half.

It was Espanyol’s first win against Barcelona at its RCDE Stadium.

The second leg of the Catalan derby is next week at Camp Nou.

Barcelona hadn’t lost since a 2-0 defeat by Real Madrid in the second leg of the Spanish Super Cup on Aug. 16. It had won 23 of its last 29 matches in all competitions.

“We knew we would lose one day,” Barcelona midfielder Sergio Busquets said. “The positive thing is that in a week we have a chance to rebound and advance.”

Messi had his chance from the spot after Sergi Roberto was fouled by Esteban Granero, but his low shot into the right corner was stopped as Diego Lopez dived to his left to tip the ball away.

It was a rare miss for Messi, who is having a stellar season and is the Spanish league’s top scorer with 17 goals.

“The penalty save gave us the boost that we needed,” Melendo said. “We were playing too defensively.”

Melendo netted the winner with a low shot from the middle of the area after a well-timed pass by Marc Navarro.

Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde did not use all of the team’s regular starters, leaving players such as Luis Suarez on the bench.

The match was interrupted for a few minutes in the 76th after Barcelona goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen was hit by an object thrown by fans behind his goal.

Barcelona midfielder Paulinho was replaced in the second half because of a foot injury.

Barcelona acknowledges interest in PSG midfielder Verratti

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MADRID (AP) Barcelona’s president has confirmed widespread speculation that it wants to pry Marco Verratti from Paris Saint-Germain.

President Josep Bartomeu told Catalunya Radio on Friday that Verratti “is a player that interests the club.”

But Bartomeu also acknowledged PSG was not looking to part with the Italy midfielder.

“PSG doesn’t want to sell him,” he said. “Their president has told me that he doesn’t want to speak to me about Verratti.”

[ MORE: Messi “best paid athlete in world”]

Bartomeu said his club wants to sign “two or three players and bring up one or two players from the reserve team.”

Barcelona is said to be interested in Arsenal defender Hector Bellerin and Real Betis midfielder Dani Ceballos.

Also, Barcelona said France defender Jeremy Matheiu will be leaving the club after three seasons to sign with Sporting Lisbon.

Real Madrid presented defender Jesus Vallejo, who returned to the club after two years on loan at Real Zaragoza and German club Eintracht Frankfurt. He is expected to replace Pepe following his move to Besiktas in Turkey.

Espanyol announced the signing of midfielder Esteban Granero to a three-year deal. The former Real Madrid and Queens Park Rangers player arrives from Real Sociedad.

La Liga: Ronaldo turns playmaker to lead Real Madrid past Bilbao

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Cristiano Ronaldo turned into Real Madrid’s playmaker by setting up two goals to beat Athletic Bilbao 2-1 on Saturday and keep on track to reclaim the Spanish league title.

Ronaldo passed for Karim Benzema to open the scoring at San Mames Stadium.

Bilbao equalized through Aritz Aduriz’s header in the 65th, but three minutes later Ronaldo flicked on a corner kick for Casemiro to finish off.

“We won at a very difficult ground. We had to dig in but we played with real character,” Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane said.

Madrid, which hasn’t won the league since 2012, leads second-placed Barcelona by five points. Barcelona hosts Valencia on Sunday. Madrid has a game in hand.

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 Real Madrid 27 20 5 2 71 28 43 11-3-0 9-2-2 65
 Barcelona 27 18 6 3 77 23 54 9-3-1 9-3-2 60
 Sevilla 27 17 6 4 51 31 20 10-2-1 7-4-3 57
 Atlético Madrid 27 15 7 5 49 22 27 9-2-2 6-5-3 52
 Villarreal 28 13 9 6 39 20 19 8-3-3 5-6-3 48
 Real Sociedad 28 15 3 10 42 39 3 7-3-4 8-0-6 48
 Athletic 28 13 5 10 35 32 3 10-3-2 3-2-8 44

The loss ended Bilbao’s unbeaten home streak at 13 games in the league, one short of the club record in 1992.

Madrid spent long stretches in its half absorbing Bilbao’s pressure brought by wingers Inaki Williams and Inigo Leque.

But Madrid’s efficiency proved the difference. As Bilbao coach Ernesto Valverde put it: “They beat us with two moments of brilliance.”

Midfielder Casemiro played a part in Benzema’s goal when he spotted Ronaldo breaking down the left. Ronaldo received his long pass and squared the ball for Benzema to slot in.

Benzema moved into the top-10 La Liga scorers in Madrid’s history, with 119 goals in 237 matches. Ronaldo had the club record of 280.

Madrid had little trouble repelling Bilbao’s crosses until Williams forced Keylor Navas to make a difficult save early in the second half.

Shortly after, Williams sped past Marcelo and crossed for Raul Garcia to head the ball back to the center of the six-yard box where Aduriz nodded it home.

Bilbao’s push was deflated by Ronaldo, however, when he headed on a corner kick for Casemiro to control and tap in uncontested.

“I know what my duties in the team are and that’s not scoring goals because there are more gifted players than me playing further forward,” Casemiro said. “Having said that, if I can score, then all the better.”

Deyverson’s goal just before halftime secured Alaves a win over regional Basque Country rival Real Sociedad.

Sociedad was left with 10 men from the 67th after Esteban Granero picked up his second yellow card.

With a second consecutive loss, Sociedad missed the chance to move into fifth place and lost ground on the top four spots that earn Champions League berths.

Enrique Garcia headed in Pedro Leon’s cross for Eibar in the 20th, and Espanyol midfielder Jose Jurado equalized shortly after halftime.

The splitting of the points did little to help both sides’ hopes of qualifying for the Europa League.

Bottom-side Osasuna is staring at relegation after its winless streak reached 20 rounds.

Betis eased to victory from Rafa Navarro’s first career goal in the league followed by Ruben Castro’s strike.